Born in the South Bay to Indian immigrants, Dr. Rupa Marya’s childhood included experiences living in France and India. Now based in the East Bay, Marya is a medical doctor and busy activist whose work ranges from providing medical care to hunger strikers in San Francisco to creating a clinic in Standing Rock, North Dakota.
When not saving lives, Marya is the forceful frontwoman for longtime Bay Area band Rupa & the April Fishes, which formed in 2005. The band recently released their fifth studio album, Growing Upward, a bombastic and exciting vocalization of Marya’s work that addresses political and social topics with upbeat rhythms and world-music vibes. Rupa & the April Fishes performs off the album on Friday, Oct. 18, at Sweetwater Music Hall.
“I feel that being a physician allows me to see what I call the bleeding edge of society,” Marya says. “I was inspired by the work I was doing with families impacted by police violence and indigenous people fighting for sovereignty of their land and water. Music is a great medium to tie those stories together.”
Not only was Marya inspired to write songs about these issues, several tracks on Growing Upward were requested of her by those she was helping.
For example, Marya wrote the album’s track “Frontline” after grandmothers at Standing Rock asked her to write a song to give them courage during the protests over the Dakota Access Pipeline.
Legendary spoken word poet Gil Scott-Heron, whom Marya befriended and shared conversations with over identity and race, requested another track, “Where You From.”
“He asked me to write a song about race in America, and it took me about eight years to get to the point where I could formulate some of these thoughts,” Marya says. “It’s about the intersection between white supremacy and climate collapse. How do we expose those false narratives and heal the connection between us as people, so we can coordinate our response to the single most threatening thing to human existence?”
For Rupa & the April Fishes, music is the power that heals, and the group spreads positivity and community when they perform live.
“What I’m interested in is creating moments of joy,” Marya says. “I love to see the blending of different kinds of people and different walks of life coming together for a shared moment of music.”